Sunday, August 20, 2017

ISS: Dragon Arrives and Russians Take a Walk

SpaceX Dragon resupply cargo vessel orbiting Earth and about to dock with the ISS. NASA pic.

SpaceX made another great launch last Monday, August 14th. The Falcon 9 rocket lifted the Dragon cargo spacecraft into orbit, and then flew back to Earth for a soft landing back at Cape Canaveral. The Dragon carried thousands of pounds of supplies and experiments for the crew on Expedition 52 in the International Space Station. 

NASA graphic of the current spacecraft locations on the ISS.

After a two day "chase" the Dragon spacecraft caught up to the ISS and maneuvered into a capture position. Astronauts Jack Fischer and Paulo Nespoli used the robotic arm to grab the capture point and guide the craft to its docking adapter. Eventually the spacecraft was secured at the new Common Berthing Mechanism (CBM) on the US Harmony module. Dragon will remain at the station for unloading, and then reloading of items to return to Earth in September.




Cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchkhin (L) and Sergey Ryazanskiy (R) preparing to exit.

On Thursday, August 17, Russian cosmonauts conducted an EVA to launch satellites and bring samples back inside. Expedition 53 commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and flight engineer Sergey Ryazanskiy left the Russian Pirs module for a seven hour spacewalk. They launched five nanosatellites that had been stored outside the station from a previous supply mission. One of the satellites was to test 3-D printed materials, while several others were commemorative or experimented with communications.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

ISS: The View from the Cupola.

Astronaut Peggy Whitson doing what any one of us would do in space: Look back at Earth. (NASA)

When members of the International Space Station aren't doing experiments, maintaining the station, eating, or doing hours of exercise, they share a common interest: looking at home. In the photo above, posted by astronaut Peggy Whitson, she comments that even after 638 days in space, she finds the view incredible. She is pictured above during some personal time in the cupola, the station's best viewport of the planet Earth. Click to enlarge. There is a Russian spacecraft visible in the upper left, and a solar panel just off to the center left.

What would you most want to view from space?

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Three New Crew for Expedition 52 Arrive at ISS

Contact! Soyuz crewed spaceship MS-05 reaches the docking port on the International Space Station. (NASA TV)

 ISS Expedition 52 received three new crewmembers with the arrival on Friday of a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Using the six-hour ascent interception plan, the Soyuz reached the station safely and docked at 5:54 Eastern Daylight time. On board the spacecraft were Soyuz commander Sergei Ryazanskiy (Roscosmos), astronaut Randy Bresnick (NASA) and astronaut Paulo Naspoli (ESA). The crew now stands at six, including Expedition 52 commander Fyodor Yurchikhin (Roscosmos), Peggy Whitson (NASA), and Jack Fischer (NASA). 

Soyuz training photo. L-R: Paulo Nespoli, Sergei Ryazanskiy, Randy Bresnick.

The new crew is expected to remain on the ISS for four months. During that time, the station expects arrivals from Dragon, Progress, and Cygnus cargo spacecraft. Much of the science work for this mission will involve medical studies including an interesting look at how Parkinson's disease is started. They will also study how small satellites can be used in critical situations such as natural disasters or severe weather monitoring. The original Exp. 52 crew of Yurchikhin, Whitson and Fischer are expected to leave the station in September.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

SpaceX Scores! Re-Used Dragon Docks with ISS

View from ISS: Robotic arm guides the captured Dragon cargo ship to its docking port. (NASA TV)

It has been a dream of the folks at SpaceX to begin launching re-used spacecraft, with the goal to reduce costs of space transportation. Well they can check off a major milestone now, because on June 3rd, they launched the first refitted Dragon cargo space capsule on board a Falcon 9 rocket. Days later, the Dragon caught up to the ISS and astronauts Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer used the SSRMS (Space Station Remote Manipulator System) robotic arm to grapple the craft and move it to dock at the U.S. Harmony module.

Current locations of docked spacecraft at the International Space Station. (NASA)
 
The Dragon spacecraft used on this mission (CRS-11) was previously used on mission CRS-4. After returning safely to Earth, it was unloaded, inspected, cleaned, and repaired with some new parts to keep it in operable condition. The only spacecraft to have done this sort of thing before, was the Space Shuttle, last docked at the ISS in 2011. This is the second time SpaceX has reached a re-usability objective - the first was in March when a refurbished Falcon 9 first stage successfully delivered a satellite to orbit and then landed again. Although the Falcon 9 used in this mission has not flown before, it did land safely at LC-13 at Cape Canaveral, and will now be refurbished for a future flight.
Falcon-9 rocket safely standing after an upright landing on pad LC-13. (SpaceX)

The ISS crew will take their time removing science equipment and space parts from the Dragon. It will stay docked until July 2nd. This week will keep them quite busy, as the schedule sees two spacecraft events: the undocking of Russian Progress 66 from the station, and the arrival of a new Russian ship, the Progress 67.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

ISS: Cargo and Crew Transfers Underway

Soyuz MS-03 undocks from the International Space Station. A Progress Supply ship is docked in the background. (Credit: NASA)

On June 2, Soyuz ship MS-03 departed for a return trip to Earth. Rather than the usual three crewmembers, this trip only included two: Oleg Novitskiy (Roscosmos) and Thomas Pesquet (ESA). 
Before the departure, a Change of Command ceremony took place.
Peggy Whitson turns over command of the station to Fyodor Yurchikhin. (Credit: NASA TV)

On June 1st, Expedition 51 officially ended when astronaut Peggy Whitson gave command to cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin. With the ceremony completed, the Expedition 52 period did not officially begin until Novitskiy and Pesquet departed for Earth. The two had 196 days in space before leaving on Friday. Crew reinforcements for Expedition 52 will arrive in July.
From L-R: Novistkiy, Whitson, Pesquet. (NASA)
 
 
Computer simulation of Soyuz module separations during re-entry process. The crew is located in the center module, which has the heat shield. The service module and crew docking module burn up during re-entry.
 
Touchdown! Soyuz MS-03 safely lands after firing landing thrusters activate during the final few moments of descent. Landing took place in Kazakhstan.

Meanwhile, there is a resupply mission ending and another one beginning. SpaceX was due to launch a special resupply mission on Friday, but had to postpone for a day because of lightning concerns at the launch site. This mission (CRS-11) would feature the first use of a reusable Dragon cargo ship. Ship number C-106 was last used on mission CRS-4 in September of 2014.



Falcon-9 rocket lifts off from LC-39A at Kennedy Space Center, FL. (Credit: SpaceX)

Actual launch of mission CRS-11 took place Saturday June 3. The Falcon 9 rocket took off flawlessly and after ten minutes separated from the Dragon spacecraft, which continued its flight into orbit. The rocket itself however, descended by parachute and engine power to land vertically back at Kennedy on pad LC-13. With a safe landing, the rocket can be refurbished and prepared to be reused on another future flight.

Cygnus resupply spacecraft. (NASA)
 
While Dragon makes its way to the ISS, another ship is leaving. Early Sunday morning, astronauts Jack Fischer and Peggy Whitson used the station's CanadArm robotic arm to pull the undocked Cygnus spacecraft OA-7 (Named John H. Glenn) from its berth and release it. This move comes a month earlier than scheduled, in an effort to reduce the future workload for the crew. The Cygnus will now move away from the station, and spend a week doing experiments under control from ground flight engineers. The John H. Glenn will deploy several small satellites on Thursday, and after experiments are completed, the craft will de-orbit and burn up over the Pacific Ocean on June 11.

 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Equipment Failure on ISS Triggers Unplanned EVA

Astronaut Peggy Whitson making repairs to the EXT-1.
 
It doesn't happen often on the ISS, but when a critical electrical command component breaks down, it's great to know there's a backup system in place. In this case, on May 20 the EXT-1 MDM electrical command controller went down. It controlled external US segment systems, which includes things like the Mobile Transporter (MT),  Secondary Electrical Power System (SEPS), Passive Thermal Control System (PTCS), and a couple of Truss rotary joints. When the system failed, the EXT-2 took over right away so there was no degradation of systems. However, if THAT item were to fail, NASA would have lost control over the facing direction of the solar radiators and several other critical station systems along the Truss.
Astronaut Jack Fischer moves along the outside of a module.
 
Immediately the decision was made to go outside and replace the broken equipment. Using components stored aboard the station for such a situation, a new EXT-1 was assembled and tested. Then on May 23, astronauts Peggy Whitson (Commander of Expedition 51) and Jack Fischer made a short spacewalk of over two hours. The mission event was a success, and systems are back to normal.
Record holders for EVAs.
 
This EVA brings Peggy Whitson into the top three record holders for time spent on spacewalks. Currently, the Russians hold the lead.
You can read more details of the operation at NASA SpaceFlight.com: https://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2017/05/spacewalkers-unplanned-eva-replace-failed-ext-1-mdm/

Sunday, May 14, 2017

200th EVA for ISS

US Astronaut Jack Fisher prepares to enter the airlock and go for a walk.
 
Although designated US-42, the spacewalk on Friday by two US astronauts was also the 200th spacewalk for the construction and maintenance of the International Space Station. Astronauts Peggy Whitson (NASA, Commander of Expedition 51) and Jack FIsher (NASA, Exp. 51 flight engineer, on his first mission in space) conducted a four hour spacewalk that was shortened due to problems with battery power in one of the suits.

During their EVA, they accomplished quite a bit of work. They replaced an avionics box supplying electricity to some experiments, a data connector to the Alpha Imaging Spectrometer, insulation on the Japanese robotic arm, and a shield cover on Pressurized Mating Adapter 3. In total, there have been almost 1248 hours of spacewalks since the first one in 1998.

For more information on station activities, go to: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html .